(See Fish Gallery Below)
Forty species of catfishes are found in North America; 15 species inhabit Virginia’s waters. Catfishes range in size from the small madtoms and bullheads (to 10" in length), moderately-sized (to 25") channel and white catfish, to giant flathead and blue catfish (to 5' and 130 pounds). All catfish are bottom-dwelling fish with large flattened heads, barbels (whiskers), no scales, an adipose fin, and mildly poisonous dorsal and pectoral spines.|
Catfish have been widely distributed by man throughout the U.S. for sport fishing and fish farming. Except for the miniature madtom, which live in cold clear streams, catfish are warmwater (80-95F) fish that thrive in slow-flowing rivers and productive lakes and ponds. Catfish are spring cavity spawners that lay their adhesive eggs in a large mass hollow logs, bank holes, and old tires. Male catfish aggressively defend the eggs and young for several weeks after they hatch. Adult catfish are voracious predators on fish and other aquatic animals that feed primarily at night using their fine sense of smell and touch (barbels).
Sport and commercial fishing for catfish and the smaller bullhead species is very popular, especially in the South. Private fee-fishing ponds are frequently stocked in high density with channel catfish for pay sport fishing. Channel catfish is the number one warmwater fish farmed in the United States. This major commercial fish farming industry, centered in artificial ponds in Mississippi and Alabama where the growing season is nearly year-round, produces 400 million pounds of food catfish worth $330 million. Channel catfish are a fast growing, mild-flavored fish that have a high-feed conversion efficiency and tolerance for high density fish culture.